The demand for psychiatric services in the United States has been steadily increasing over the years, especially during and since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, an alarming shortage of psychiatrists is only growing larger, creating a significant barrier to accessible, timely mental healthcare. There are many benefits of telepsychiatry that can help bridge this gap.
Currently, over 150 million people in the U.S. live in areas that do not have enough mental health providers. Furthermore, over half of the counties nationwide don’t have a single psychiatrist. It’s estimated that the U.S. will suffer a shortage of up to 32,000 psychiatrists within a few years.
The deepening shortage of professionals and increasing demand for mental health services is prompting a range of creative solutions, one of which is telehealth services. Here, we will evaluate the importance of telepsychiatry as a transformative solution in mental health treatment, a solution that bridges the gap between the demand for mental health care and psychiatrist availability.
The Benefits of Telepsychiatry: Why It’s So Critical
Ensuring individuals have access to the mental health and psychiatric care they need is the main benefit of telepsychiatry. Many barriers to mental healthcare access are dispelled with telehealth services, the benefits of telepsychiatry are far-reaching.
Telepsychiatry Expands Access to Mental Health Professionals in Underserved Populations
Certain populations, such as those in rural areas with limited healthcare infrastructure and low-income communities, suffer from disparities in access to mental health services. Telepsychiatry services can reach these populations and open the door to services these individuals desperately need.
One of the most cumbersome challenges in accessing medical services like psychiatry is the geographical distance between patients and providers. This is especially true in remote areas and those where psychiatrists are scarce, making it almost impossible for individuals to receive the services they need and deserve.
Telepsychiatry leverages technology to connect those individuals with the services of psychiatrists in any location, thereby removing the geographic barriers that had once been in place. Through videoconferencing, patients can access premium mental healthcare from the comfort of their own homes, regardless of where their homes may be. By removing geographic barriers, telepsychiatry also effectively reduces the burden of long wait times and eliminates the need for travel, it can also make medication management easier.
Telepsychiatry Improves Continuity of Mental Health Care
Ensuring continuity of care is a critical advantage of telepsychiatry, especially for individuals who need ongoing treatment and follow-up appointments beyond their primary care providers. Missed appointments due to logistical and transportation issues are common in traditional healthcare appointment settings. These missed appointments delay and disrupt care and potentially exacerbate psychiatric conditions that must be closely followed and monitored.
Telepsychiatry offers the opportunity for patients to easily attend scheduled appointments, meetings, and consultations without the need to travel. For many, this significantly reduces the likelihood of missed appointments.
Telepsychiatry Can Enhance Emergency Care
During times of crisis, including during natural disasters, pandemics, and other emergency situations, access to mental healthcare, including psychiatry, becomes even more vital than normal. Telepsychiatry provides a viable and sustainable solution by making access to treatment available across a wide array of variables.
With teleconferencing enabling immediate intervention and support, psychiatrists can assess patients, provide initial intervention, and plan for the necessary follow-up care patients need. In emergencies, this lifesaving connection ensures that people receive the mental health support they need when time is critical.
Telepsychiatry Can Integrate Behavioral Health Care
Comprehensive patient care relies on the ability of psychiatrists to collaborate with other healthcare providers like primary care physicians and social workers. Telepsychiatry facilitates multidisciplinary collaboration by establishing secure fact-sharing via teleconferences and virtual consultations among providers.
Integrated services ensure that individuals can receive coordinated care that is comprehensive and connected. This is especially valuable in situations where specialized mental health professional availability is limited due to geography or transportation.
Ensuring Telepsychiatry Is Accessible for All Who Need It
Telepsychiatry can be carried out through various methods, making it even more accessible to a wide group of individuals who may need it. Options include online self-paced modules; virtual one-on-one treatment sessions, consultations, and evaluations; online teleconferencing with group therapy sessions; and the use of mobile mental health apps.
Combining quality mental healthcare with online access to professionals is the foundation of a successful psychiatry practice that delivers services on a virtual level. The shortage of psychiatrists poses a substantial challenge to delivering quality mental health services; however, telepsychiatry offers a workable, convenient solution.
How to Set up a Successful Telepsychiatry Practice
Setting up a telepsychiatry practice involves familiarity with the applicable state laws, deciding how to utilize teleservices, and finding the right technology. If you’re interested in starting a successful practice that can reach patients across boundaries, a new course, How to Set Up a Flourishing Telepsychiatry Practice, can give you all the guidance you need.
This course covers topics that include the following:
- Hardware and software needs
- Clinical challenges
- Special big-picture considerations
- Coding for telepsychiatry
- Tips from experienced telepsychiatrists
Lectures by the nation’s top MDs and healthcare providers are available now, and 10 AMA PRA Category 1 CME Credits™ are included. Register for this course now and learn more about how to set up a telepsychiatry practice to expand your impact and reach patients who need your help.
Need help preparing for the Psychiatry Boards? Access our Psychiatry Certification Board Review course here.